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Not too much madness this March: Field of 68 in NCAA basketball tourney leaves little to gripe about

Not too much madness this March: Field of 68 in NCAA basketball tourney leaves little to gripe about

That NCAA Selection Committee just can’t get anything right. I can usually count on them to screw up the field for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament so I can spew some righteous outrage to anybody who will listen. Yet this year they’ve served up a field of 68 that is relatively controversy-free, and what fun is that?

I suppose, as a mid-major fan, I can get upset about Drexel’s omission, but the committee helped to right that wrong by including Iona. As for some of the major conference omissions, I would have preferred to see Washington instead of California based on the fact that the Huskies won the regular-season in the Pac 12, but, based on the criteria the committee must use, Cal had the better resume.

I’m also not sure how anybody can separate South Florida and Seton Hall, two brick-throwing middle-of-the-pack teams from the Big East. (South Florida made it and Seton Hall didn’t.) Based on the so-called Eye Test, they both would have been out of my field, but I’m not sure who I would have put in there instead, because most of the bubble teams flamed out late.

So I was left with just some mild annoyances rather than major frustration. I guess I’ll just have to turn my attention to the brackets and some fascinating developing storylines in each regional

SOUTH

Kentucky got the No. 1 overall seed, but, based on name recognition alone, they won’t have an easy time of it in the South. They’ve got a possible second-round match-up with UConn, the defending champs who are loaded with talent and finally started to show it in the Big East tourney. A possible Sweet 16 opponent is Indiana, who handed them one of their two losses this season.

On the other half of the bracket, Duke awaits as the No. 2 seed. The Blue Devils are being downgraded by many experts, but, should they defy those expectations, a game against Kentucky in the regional final coming 20 years after Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot would be quite the story.

Seeded No. 3, Baylor has a great chance to make it to the regional final, but will likely have to get past both Duke and Kentucky to make it to the Final Four in New Orleans March 31.

WEST

Michigan State grabbed the last top seed based on their Big 10 championship win over Ohio State, and the Spartans have a great senior leader in Draymond Green. But an argument can be made that Missouri, the region’s No. 2 seed, has been every bit as impressive with their guard-heavy attack.

Also lurking in this region is Louisville, coming off a Big East tourney title, and Murray State, the only team in the nation to lose just a single game this season. In the sleeper department, watch out for No. 12 seed Long Beach State, who won the Bug West tourney without standout forward Larry Anderson. He’ll be back for the tourney, and this team has Sweet 16 talent.

EAST

Full disclosure: I’m a Syracuse grad, so perhaps my doubts about their potential in this tournament could be me subconsciously trying to get them to the Final Four with a reverse-jinx. But they’ve had an awful hard time scoring in the half-court lately, and I’m really worried about a potential Sweet 16 game against Vanderbilt, an experienced squad peaking at the right time.

Some interesting sleeper potential exists in this regional. Case in point: St. Bonaventure just navigated their way through the four-bid Atlantic 10 tourney, yet they ended up with just a No. 14 seed. That means that Florida State mustn’t let up after their great ACC tourney, or they could be in for a shock.

Texas, which seemed like a long shot to make the field, grabbed the No. 11 seed based on their strong finish. The Longhorns young team is peaking at just the right time, and Rick Barnes' tournament experience could help them surprise their first round opponent, the Cincinnati Bearcats.

MIDWEST

I feel like North Carolina, the top seed here, got a pretty easy draw in this regional. None of the teams they potentially will face can hold a candle to them talent-wise. Even No. 2 seed Kansas doesn’t have anywhere near that much firepower. The only thing that can hold the Tar Heels back from another Final Four would be in forward John Henson’s wrist injury lingers. Before UNC’s coronation, however, there are some interesting long shots to watch.

No. 3 seed Georgetown didn’t finish the season too strong and runs up against a dangerous Belmont squad in their first game. And don’t be surprised if Kansas gets a scare from Detroit in the opening round.

We’ll have more on the tourney’s opening rounds later this week. Until then, enjoy the hoops!

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While there is lots of excitement about the NCAA pairings, there's not as much grumbling as in recent years, probably because the field has been expanded to 68 teams. Courtesy of NCAA
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No. 1 Kentucky in the No. 1 seed in the South regional, despite losing the SEC Championship game to Vanderbilt Sunday. Photo by Ian McCormick